When Kanye West lambasted President George W. Bush for Mr. Bush’s performance during Hurricane Katrina’s strike on the city of New Orleans, the accusation that the President hated black people brought a lot of media traffic to Mr. West and painted Mr. Bush as uncaring. Probably an unfair assessment given what has been written about the man, but at the time, it stuck, becoming stickier while America was engrossed in two military conflicts overseas.
Fast forward eight years later again to Louisiana and this time the calls of insensitivity toward blacks is being hurled against a president of African descent and the U.S. attorney general, also a man of African descent, by a number of black parents wondering what kind of beef the Obama administration has against low-income parents exercising free school choice.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on a Louisiana public school system voucher program that allows low income students to take state vouchers and use them to obtain educational services from other public or in some case private schools.
While the students and parents, mostly African American, taking advantage of this program see the benefits of getting their kids into good, higher performing schools as a good thing, the U.S. Department of Justice sees the program as taking away from the holding in Brown v. Board and Bromfield v. Dodd. DOJ’s fear is that Louisiana’s voucher program will create segregated schools simply by allowing low-income, minority students to exercise a choice and get on up out of a poorly performing school and moving on to a better performing school.
The Obama administration is exposing these students to three flaws in its position. First, the administration has taken its eyes off of what is most important to parents: the delivery of effective educational service. This flaw comes from the administration’s continuous spurning of market and consumer choice as the backbone for how services are delivered. Rather than acknowledging that Louisiana has crafted a mechanism for facilitating choice of education service provider, the Administration prefers to couch that choice in terms of returning to a time of segregation.
Second, the Administration prefers take a static view of the Board v. Brown. Brown was not about creating equal societies, black and white. Brown was about increasing human and social capital by ensuring all students had access to facilities that provided the same quality of education. Jim Crow erected barriers that blocked a child’s access to better education. Those barriers that were set in law are gone, but the economic barriers are still there. A voucher system helps students navigate those economic barriers.
Third, the community building mindset of the Obama administration is telling in its suit against Louisiana. By attacking the voucher program, the Administration sends a message that we would rather have poor performing schools anchoring communities made up primarily of African American and Latino students because that’s the world our constituents want us to maintain. Is the Administration afraid that students going to better schools outside of their neighborhoods means that their families may follow suit?
What should be of utmost concern is the quality of education students can receive under Louisiana’s voucher system, especially if we really care about students using education as a helicopter that comes to their rescue from a despairing environment.
We wouldn’t want Kanye hurling another one of those baseless accusations.